By Bridget Sjoberg | Editor-in-Chief
“Tiger King” appears to be everywhere these days— it’s being tweeted about by celebrities, has created a seemingly endless variety of memes on social media and has many of its viewers convinced that cat owner Carole Baskin murdered her husband.
The seven-part Netflix docuseries is an absolute must-see. The premise sounds crazy, and the show itself is even crazier. It follows several owners of exotic animal sanctuaries, or zoos, most of them highlighting “big cats” like lions and tigers.
Although the series covers owners like Carole Baskin and Doc Antle in detail, the majority of the series revolves around Joe Exotic, previous owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. Exotic is now serving a 22-year prison sentence on animal abuse and murder-for-hire charges.
The series is outlandish and has even been accused of sensationalizing some content, but it is overall a fascinating look at a rarely highlighted subculture. Each zoo owner’s life is so unbelievable that their careers are typically one of the least interesting aspects about them. The show operates off of two primary draws— its humor and its shock value.
Although most of these owners are unlikable and have questionable motives and behavior, it’s undeniable that “Tiger King” is funny. Joe Exotic’s feud with Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin is a huge driver of the show, and is at the heart of most of the conflict. Both Exotic and Baskin have larger-than-life personalities, and both are completely oblivious to how their behavior appears to and affects others. Each owner manages to judge the other owners while not admitting to their own flaws, and the seriousness with which each owner treats their profession makes “Tiger King” have a similar feel to shows like “The Office.”
“Tiger King” is also wildly interesting due to the almost unbelievable events that unfold — just when you think nothing crazier can happen, it does. An employee getting her arm bitten off by a tiger is one of the least suspenseful events in the show. Whether it be the unsolved murder of Carole Baskin’s husband or Joe Exotic running for president, “Tiger King” never fails to remain engaging.
The docuseries also highlights a dark part of the exotic animal business, and how factors like notoriety and money can overpower original intentions. Some owners operate businesses similar to cults out of their zoos, luring in young, sometimes underage employees who stay at the zoo for many years, some so they can access drugs or because they are scared to leave.
Despite each zoo owner emphasizing how much they care for their cats, video clips show the animals living in caged, sometimes inhumane environments not at all similar to their natural habitats. Additionally, the businesses the owners run, despite an often-times initial desire to help animals, become completely fueled by gaining followings and taking down their competitors. The biggest losers in this whole situation are the cats, who have no choice but to continue being bred and held captive for show.
Despite its crazy premise and wild cast of characters, “Tiger King” serves as an intriguing look at exotic zoo operations, and the lifestyle that often accompanies the profession. The show is worth the hype, and will likely be remembered and referenced for years to come.